How journalism education should change

Summary:Print's dead; newspapers are toast; Dave Winer has some good suggestions to revamp journalism education and bloggers can't get enough of the San Francisco Chronicle's woes. It's a debate--as someone who could be considered professional trained journalist--that frankly tires me out.

Print's dead; newspapers are toast; Dave Winer has some good suggestions to revamp journalism education and bloggers can't get enough of the San Francisco Chronicle's woes.

It's a debate--as someone who could be considered professional trained journalist--that frankly tires me out.

But I'll wade in since it fits with a few points I made to one of Columbia University's J-school alumni representatives a few weeks ago. Her question: What should we be doing?

As Robert Scoble and Winer note journalism education has to change (and good ideas abound). Winer has an interesting point about how everyone should take a few journalism courses since everyone will be a journalist. That's true, but there will still be professional journalists and non-professional ones. There's a difference. And you know it when you see it. The Washington Post's stories about how the VA is treating Iraqi vets is very different than the blogger rants that follow. But whether these professional journalist types work for a centralized outfit or run their own blog won't matter.

Here's what I said when asked about what Columbia--and likely other journalism schools--should be doing.

Teach entrepreneurship: I can't emphasis this point enough. Everyone at Columbia worships the New York Times. Greatest paper blah blah blah. Many students point to the Times as their ideal destination. The rub: Few will get there and once they get there they are mired in a declining business model. If they stick, it's likely they'll get canned at 55 for cheaper talent. Talk about a let down. Most journalists will ultimately wind up working for themselves. Why not teach them how? Why can't journalism schools offer seed money to content startups? A journalist with expertise in a specific field could start a niche blog and sell ads. The reason most journalism students are still thinking newspapers and traditional media outlets is that they haven't been encouraged to think bigger.

Embed online tools throughout the curriculum: Columbia has been pretty good about this. I was in the inaugural new media class there--in 1995. The class focused on the toys more than the reporting--we had to edit stories in Unix--but it was a big advantage at graduation. So Scoble's argument that no journalists are being trained for online is complete bunk. However, most schools still segment folks--magazine focus, TV focus, newspapers etc. All of those specialties should be infused with online learning.

Get real pros to teach you: Scoble sounded shocked that journalism schools aren't running to embrace the online world. I'm not. Why? Many J-school profs are way removed from reality. Even worse many of them haven't been real journalists in a while--ask them to write a story in 5 minutes with frequent updates and they'd crack. Meanwhile, these profs have tenure--which means there's no reason to move quickly anyway. So put yourself in a prof's shoes: You have job security and you spend more time on English literature than scoops. Who cares about blogs? Why bother? You're in cruise control. One of the reasons Columbia has stood out is that it actually has people that work for a living teaching you. That's not the case in most places. If more real journalists were teaching journalism perhaps they could warn students about the print train wreck.

Remember the basics: As we ponder the next frontier (blogs, Twitter et al) real reporting still matters. Talking to real humans is important. Interviewing techniques matter. Court documents matter. Police ride-alongs matter. All of those skills play nicely in the online world as a way to stand out. And let's not hope all newspapers go away--that's where you still learn the best reporting skills.

Topics: IT Employment

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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